North Carolina Republican dismisses 2018 state election fraud as ‘fairly minor’

<span>Dan Bishop speaks at a Trump rally in Greensboro, North Carolina, on 2 March 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images</span>
Dan Bishop speaks at a Trump rally in Greensboro, North Carolina, on 2 March 2024.Photograph: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A North Carolina Republican running to be the state’s attorney general dismissed a significant election fraud incident in 2018 that resulted in a new election as “some fairly minor illegal ballot harvesting”.

Dan Bishop, a congressman whose district is based outside of Charlotte, made the comments in an 1 April episode of the Reclaiming America podcast.

In 2018, Mark Harris, a Republican, won the race to represent North Carolina’s ninth congressional district. But shortly after the election, the North Carolina state board of elections voted to overturn a congressional election and call a new one after an investigation revealed that a Harris operative was illegally collecting absentee ballots from voters. Harris decided not to run again and Bishop ultimately won the seat.

The operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, allegedly instructed those working for him to falsely sign as witnesses for voters though they had not witnessed the voter filling out the ballot and making it seem like the voter mailed back the ballot themselves when they had not. People working for Dowless said they collected hundreds of mail-in ballots and in some cases were directed to fill in votes for local candidates. In North Carolina, a voter must get two witnesses or a notary to sign an absentee ballot envelope and it is illegal for anyone other than the voter, a close relative, or a legal guardian to return the ballot.

Dowless was charged with several felonies for the conduct in the 2016 and 2018 elections. He died in 2022, before the case went to trial. Several others involved in the scheme pleaded guilty to misdemeanors.

Bishop said in the interview that the board of elections “under Democrat control” decided to overturn the election. While Democrats did have a 3-2 majority on the board at the time, the vote for a new election was unanimous. Mark Harris, the Republican candidate who won, also called for a new election, and the state Republican party supported Harris’s decision not to run again. Harris, who won a Republican primary for Congress earlier this year, has since walked back his position, falsely accusing Democrats of stealing the election from him.

A Bishop spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

The type of fraud that took place in North Carolina – which is extremely rare – is exactly the type of activity that Republicans across the country have tried to crack down on, passing laws that make it harder for third parties and non-family members to return absentee ballots on a voter’s behalf.

Bishop voted against certifying the 2020 election. During the same 1 April interview, he acknowledged the immense power he would have over election issues were he elected attorney general this fall. “I will say that I believe the number one impact that an attorney general can have is in the area of election integrity, by seeing to it that the kind of mischief that has gone on in litigation concerning elections is being responded to appropriately,” he said.